I started this book with a little trepidation because the first book in this series, Innocent Darkness, felt too derivative of other books in the YA/F...moreI started this book with a little trepidation because the first book in this series, Innocent Darkness, felt too derivative of other books in the YA/Fantasy genre. I had just finished reading Holly Black’s “The Modern Faery’s Tales” trilogy, which deals with the same mortal/faerie world dichotomy. Both Black’s published trilogy (Black published hers 2004-2007) and Lazear’s deal with the same question of a magical plane that must be fed on the blood of a young female sacrifice every seven years, and the major difference seems to be that Lazear has moved the timeline a century earlier to the 1900’s to make it compatible with the steampunk elements. (And, as an aside, a sword that turns into a pen? Percy Jackson, anyone?) But Lazear is better at building the relationship between the parallel worlds, and the writing seems less conflicted in tone, so I was eager to see where the second book would take her cast of characters.
I am pleased by how Lazear’s young adult novel is appropriate to the age of the intended audience, even though some readers have commented that they find the chaste nature of Noli and V’s relationship beyond unbelievable. Given the time period of the novel and the very real danger of pregnancy, it makes sense that these two would choose not to make things even harder for themselves. As an adult reading this novel I felt like Charmed Vengeance manages to explore the complex nature of evil in the human and faerie realms without overreaching; the cruelty and menace of both feel plausible, not like an attempt at shock value or to make the book ‘street’ enough for teens to think it sufficiently cool to read. The idea of human sacrifice is more clearly defined in Lazear’s novel: Here the sacrifice is necessary to save not just the faerie world, but the human one as well. The two worlds are indelibly intertwined and, without the pact, both worlds pay a terrific price. The nature of sacrifice, and the ethical questions that surround it, simply seems handled more intelligently and doesn’t condescend to the teen audience, which I found refreshing. And it also helps that the story is moving in the direction of solving the ritual sacrifice problem.
The ‘head hopping’ in the book is a little worrisome, because it interferes with the flow of the story. In this book we get far more of Noli’s viewpoint, and the reader experiences her unwilling possession by an earth sprite, which feels a lot like mental illness. I liked this POV, and I think this part of the story, which requires Noli to develop new coping strategies, to be interesting. I still think she’s impetuous and strong-willed at all the wrong times, but her inner conflict makes for good reading. But then the POV jumps to V and James, and I wasn’t quite so impressed with the moments we spent in V’s head, watching him struggle with his brother. James is dealing with a loss of his own, and he behaves like a wackadoodle two year-old lothario hybrid. It makes things almost absurdly tough for V, and this element of the story is inconsistent, unpredictable, and sometimes downright bizarre.
My biggest complaint about the first book was with regards to the use of steampunk elements, and this no longer seems to be an issue. I adore steampunk. I love the thematic explorations with regards to race and gender, the questions it asks about humanity’s interaction with technology and how it changes us, and the enormous environmental cost humans inflict on our planet in the search for the next marvel. In this book, airships are one of the most common modes of transport, and their use is organic and natural. I am still concerned by how there are hoverboards and flying cars, but these exist in a world still (bizarrely) lit by fire. They’ve managed to invent a flying car but can’t handle an incandescent light bulb? Steam powered gadgets and gizmos exist in the faerie realm, but the reader doesn’t spend any considerable time there in this book, so this is a non-issue.
I will repeat the complaint I have with the V/Noli/Kevighn love triangle. (Does every YA novel have to have one? This convention is getting stale, I think…) The triangle would be a useful plot device if it seemed like there was any possibility that dark-haired Kevighn SilverTongue stood a chance against blond Steven Darrow (Gag! A dark v. light binary!), but it really does feel like a foregone conclusion that Steven will get the girl. I truly detest how forced this element is in the book, but I think that Lazear is moving away from the “I say no with my mouth, but yes with my eyes while I look at you over the shoulder of my True Love” dialogue and narrative. Love triangles are meant to be complex and conflicted and, while there really doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge to Steven’s and Magnolia’s feelings for each other, Kevighn’s unrequited, almost courtly, love is growing on me. If you must have a love triangle then feed it well, and I don’t mean in the last chapter of the book as part of a cliffhanger.
I also find the amount of repetitive phrases to be mildly annoying, and I think teen readers will also pick up on this. Both Magnolia and Steven’s brother James refer to him as a “fussy old bodger,” and the boys’ single profanity (?) is “flying figs.” Magnolia really, really doesn’t want to be a “dollymop.” The repetition has the unintended consequence of limiting these worlds, and I was disappointed that new language wasn’t introduced in this second installment. I hope to see the introduction of new vernacular in the remaining installment(s).
Overall, while I thought there were some problems with the novel, I enjoyed reading it, and I can recommend it to others (though I would hesitate to mention the steampunk elements and stick to a faerie description). I also wouldn’t hesitate to put this in a classroom library as it will definitely appeal to teens. (less)
This is one of those books I run up against every once in a while that make me really stop and think about what I want to say. There were parts of the...moreThis is one of those books I run up against every once in a while that make me really stop and think about what I want to say. There were parts of the story that I really liked and found interesting. Other elements were confusing and disorienting; I had to reread some sections repeatedly to figure out what was happening. There are parts I still don’t understand, but I liked everything else enough to keep reading the series to see if I get some answers. I give Lilith Saintcrow high marks for writing a novel in which the leads are not romantic interests (or at least that’s how it looks for the time being). Emma Bannon and Archibald Clare definitely admire each other and respect the other’s abilities, but their partnership is grounded in more practical concerns (saving the empire and furthering their careers). I liked the imagery in the book, too, but wish it had been a little more show and a little less tell. I didn’t get very clear mental images, especially in the sorcerer’s duels and some of the more important battle scenes, and wish there had been a little more development in these areas. This is why this book gets a 3-star rating from me, with the caveat that I am excited to read more.
This book has fantastic language and imagery for fans of Steampunk, but it can be difficult to create the mental pictures of the large variety of machines presented (and, just to quibble a little teensy bit, there doesn’t seem to be any steam-driven technology; it seems to rely more on hydraulics and electricity). This is a Victorian alternate history in which a large part of the population is altered (one or more mechanical body parts), coaches are powered by mechanical horses, and there even seem to be mechanical rats running around. Yet, this is also an alternate history in which it is fairly common for the populace to have minor magic at their disposal that helps them in everyday tasks. Some people are particularly gifted in magic and, like Emma Bannon, serve the crown in particularly prestigious magical capacities. On the other hand, there are ‘mentaths’ like Archibald Clare who use logic to solve complicated problems. One of these complicated problems involves a logic engine, another major problem is the rise of the machines, which are impervious to magical forces. This is a world of uneasy alliances, and some of Steampunk’s biggest themes of man versus machine, the role of women, and the impact of technology on the world are right at home in this narrative.
This being said, I just couldn’t visualize or understand some of the core elements of the narrative. In some of the largest and most important battle scenes the description seemed limited to the barest sketch of what the mecha robots look like, with slightly more attention paid to what they actually do. This holds true for the descriptions of the magic Bannon uses: In many parts of the book Bannon says something and the reader is just left to imagine what that spell looks like or does. The reader has to imagine a bloody and gritty battle with no explanation as to what the magic is actually doing. Likewise, the explanations of what makes Clare important as a mentath are less than useful. Apparently, he thinks really hard. If he thinks too hard his brain turn to mush; if he doesn’t think enough, his brain turns to mush. I kept waiting for him to make a connection I didn’t already see coming, and it never happened. It seemed like a lot of fuss over something that doesn’t seem that special, and this is possibly one of the least successful parts of the story for me. In some ways I had to turn off my brain and just get on with the narrative.
Saintcrow has done an interesting job with her alternate history: She not only created a different reality, but a vocabulary and naming practices. It’s close enough to be identifiable, but different enough to reinforce the idea that this is a different place. London becomes Londinium, Queen Victoria is Queen Victrix, and St. James is St. Jemes. In this alt history Queen Victrix is the human host for the immortal spirit Britannia, and saving the queen is much more about saving a single person or a piece of land. If I’m perfectly honest, the renaming of so many places was a little disorienting (and possibly not really necessary) but it does serve to establish that this is not London like we would recognize it. There are gryphons, dragons, and magic flingers, and it would be really difficult to try to fit all of this into real history.
The most intriguing part of the book (and the reason I intend to keep reading) is the characters. Emma Bannon is complex: She’s an incredibly powerful sorceress, a ‘prima’, out of the most misunderstood and scorned of the three branches of magic. She’s constantly on guard, and like an animal that has been beaten one time too many, she never fully trusts that anyone in her world won’t turn against her at any moment. She’s an ambiguous character who keeps her own counsel, even when surrounded by people she really can trust. Mikal is Emma’s ‘shield,’ a warrior responsible for protecting her while she is mentally engaged and unable to defend herself. Mikal killed his previous charge to save Emma when she was ambushed, and she lives in fear of the day he will turn on her (though he has given absolutely no indication that he will). Their relationship is difficult to label in any way, but it could be romantic…possibly….someday. It also doesn’t help that Mikal is something possibly not quite human, though what he is will have to wait for future books. Clare was interesting: He’s a mixture of Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock Holmes and Peter Falk’s Columbo. He’s very trim, but muscular. Somewhat attractive, but with thinning hair. He’s a walking computer who is performing mental calculations to the extent that it keeps him from interacting normally with others and makes it difficult for him to develop relationships (though I would argue that he did just fine). I enjoyed his deductive reasoning and analysis of the very strange situations he encountered after being recruited by Emma as the sole surviving unregistered mentath in Londinium (all the others having been murdered), but I didn't always 'get' what he was doing and how it affected him.
I have to give this 3 stars because it was flawed in some ways, but in others a very good book. I will continue this series with the hopes I will be enlightened on some of the world-building particulars and to explore more of Emma, Clare, and Mikal, and not to mention, Supernatural Victorian Great Britain. (less)
I don't usually read Christian Romance because I find it to be a little "Disney Romance" (The thirty-something characters in this novel hardly kiss, m...moreI don't usually read Christian Romance because I find it to be a little "Disney Romance" (The thirty-something characters in this novel hardly kiss, mostly hold hands and think about how wonderful hugging would be, and never miss church on Sunday....awwwww!) Nevertheless, this was an interesting story that reveals the amount of work the author did to try to get the military part as correct as she could (and she lets the reader know in the preface that she has taken liberties with things like deployments, etc.) In the interests of full disclosure I received a copy of this book as a free download from the Kindle store, so the price was right!
If I have one problem with the story it is that our hero, Joe, spends copious amounts of time declaring that he doesn't want to have children while he's a SEAL because he won't be an absentee father. Never mind that the heroine Kelly is 31, can't wait forever to have the family she desperately wants, and asking her to wait until he's decided he's done with what he wants to do in the military is just plain selfish. Never mind that he has a beloved dog he doesn't mind spending 180 days of each year away from or that the heroine is fully capable of ensuring that he is presence in the lives of his hypothetical children even if he isn't physically in the home (military spouses do this routinely and with vast amounts of love). I understand his reasoning, I'm just not sure I could live with it if I were the woman in question, especially because it shows a lack of faith and trust, and the question of trusting in God is the foundation for this romance, RIGHT? I guess that it just doesn't ring true for me that two people who really want to have a family would wait to start one possibly too late to do anything but adopt, and all this over his career. I've seen too many career women go through terrific trials attempting to have the families they delayed because of their careers, and the regret these decisions cause them.
I also find it slightly humorous that the villain has a come-to-Jesus moment and that he is also a regular church-goer who uses his spare time to plot nefarious schemes in which good men could very easily perish. While I feel his redemption is true, his earthly sins are great, and it seems the reader is being encouraged to be far more forgiving than he deserves, especially since he is responsible for the death of Kelly's husband three years prior. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it that he is the thief with the heart of gold who started selling weapons to the highest bidder because he was mad at God over his wife's death from cancer, but this doesn't get much sympathy from me when his actions cause the deaths of honorable men who have every reason to be mad at God but are finding better ways to deal with their pain.
Overall, I found the story to be enjoyable despite the bipolar nature of the romance itself. I liked the dynamic between the SEALS, the nature of the work both Joe and Kelly perform, and the sense of community within the narrative. The prayerful tone of many of the scenes in the text isn't my cup of tea, but Christian readers may very well enjoy the prayers Kelly and Joe create and use these to reflect on their lives. (less)
I really thought about writing a complete review of this book, but then worried it would just become an extended rant about...well...everything I thin...moreI really thought about writing a complete review of this book, but then worried it would just become an extended rant about...well...everything I think is wrong with women's literature these days. It's the "Fifty Shades" syndrome: Lots and lots of escapist "mommy porn" that no woman would really want to experience in real life. I hope, anyway.
What I did like about the book:
The rather absurd cover of the book (in which our heroine is pictured wearing a ridiculous outfit that she never actually wears in the book) hints that there will be Steampunk elements in the book. I really appreciate the way these elements are introduced in the novel. I've read a lot of Steampunk, and it bothers me when authors randomly use clothing or accessories to force their work to conform to what they think might pass for SP. Ok, so there's an airship, and articulated lenses, and a new-fangled battery operated flashlight, but these things make sense in the story and the reader isn't overwhelmed with assurances that this is, indeed, an SP story. The technology is appropriate to the period described (such as it is), and it makes sense in the progress of the story.
What I didn't like about the book:
It never bothers me when characters in a story have sex. Heck, I like a good sex scene as much as the next girl, but it does bother me when a story becomes a thinly veiled excuse to string together a variety of sexual positions and situations. I mean, there's pretty much everything here! The book starts with our heroine asking the hero (?) to save her by faking a liaison, only to find herself impaled on "the Duke" (quoted directly from the book). But he insists she liked it, and that the experience was part of her sexual awakening, so her rape is ok. And then there are voyeuristic episodes with people watching other people having sex, sometimes with spanking/whips/bondage, yee haw. Oh, and let us not forget that all the important males in the story are all hung like horses and have women salivating to be rutted on at every opportunity, with an audience or not. I'm glad our hero and heroine fall in love and all that, but it would have been nice if there had been a little more substance and a little less coitus. Too much "Fifty Shades," indeed.
Some might even argue that Miss America Jones is a strong female character because she is sexually empowered in the story. As in, every time she makes a decision that he needs to honor her body and respect her integrity what she really means is that she wants to be impaled on the Duke. Or her attempts to take back property that was stolen from her are completely managed by the males in the story. I don't see her as either financially, physically, or personally empowered, and I'm disappointed that our hero is a walking erection who sometimes behaves honorably when it occurs to him. There might have been a really good story here, but it was buried under stroking and flowing juices and an assortment of sex noises.
My final analysis:
Some women really like these kinds of stories, and view them as escapist fun and wish fulfillment. If that's the case, this story is for you! If you like a little more substance, well, read Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series. Or "The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences" series by Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris.
As for this series, there was just barely enough story for me to keep reading, and I hope that future installments spend a little less time on describing the many and varied sexual positions of the characters and a little more time on character development and world building. (less)
I'm so torn! This book has three things that I usually struggle with in novels: time travel, first person POV, and a thoroughly unnecessary and useles...moreI'm so torn! This book has three things that I usually struggle with in novels: time travel, first person POV, and a thoroughly unnecessary and useless love triangle. I've actually owned this book since it's release and put off reading it because I thought I would hate it and then have to force myself to finish it. Imagine my surprise when I found myself racing through it in a single day, practically unable to put it down. Huh.
What I thought was done well:
I've read a LOT of stuff classified "Steampunk" in the last couple of years, and this book definitely stands up in terms of world building and unique story telling. It turns out that there really isn't time travel, rather alternate dimensions with a slight timelag, and this alternate dimension has a Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland/20,000 Leagues Under the Sea brand of insanity that comes with it. There were Steampunk elements throughout, but they are subtle, and used in a way that feels natural and appropriate to the story. All this seems like a lot to process, but it was fun, and pretty well thought out.
Sang is a place with two hominid species: The Pinkies (who are human) and the Bludmen (who are a vampire species). There's the usual differences humans and vampires in that Pinkies are plant and meat eaters, and the Bludmen consume blood. But the Bludmen are not immortal, and they are far more apt to drink bottled donated blood, which is used in currency. The Pinkies take no chances though, and cover all available skin as a way to reduce their level of temptation to the Bludmen. There is a sense that these two species could work very well together if the political system would allow for it. It's an interesting take on vampire mythology that makes for a more interesting plot.
I also appreciate that the sexual relationship between Tish Everett and Criminy Stain doesn't happen right at the beginning, even though Tish is summoned to Sang because of Criminy's magic. They actually spend time together and learn about each other before jumping into bed, and their sexual relationship feels appropriate to their relationship and furthers the narrative. I like romantic sex scenes as much as the next girl, but I'm sick unto death of romances that are veiled excuses to write dozens of pages of detailed and graphic prose about how a man who is hung like a horse is sexing up the heroine.
Stuff that made me go "Aaaaaaaaargh!!!!!":
The book introduces a character is the third part of a love triangle, but the reality is that there's never really any doubt how the story's HEA is going to go, which rendered the love triangle pretty much useless. I like Casper as a character, but his presence exists mostly to create a false 'choice' for our heroine. Tish Everett was horribly abused in her marriage, and is determined to be her own woman, and Casper's job in the text (if he has one) is to empower her by making her feel like she chose Criminy Stain. Since she already has to make a choice (between staying in Sang or returning to her own reality) this additional choice simply seems to muck up the works.
And speaking of men, let's get back to Tish and the abuse she suffered during her marriage. She spends a lot of the book fighting for the right to make her own choices, and Criminy seems to be the guy to let her be her own woman and give her freedom, so why did it feel like she wasn't really making choices at all? He's a little bipolar in his swings between "You need to make your own decisions" and "Oooh, Oooooh, you better pick me!!" with a healthy dose of emotional blackmail thrown in. I just can't decide if he's a good guy or not, because he is, and isn't. But maybe his internal conflict is a good thing, and prevents him from becoming unrealistically self-sacrificial?
Another *facepalm* aspect of the book is the villain. He's...just...kinda lame. He has a plan, but it's the kind of plan that made me wonder how the heck he rose to power and why the heck he stays there. His eventual downfall is entirely predictable,
I would recommend this story to readers who like steampunk or paranormal romances. The writing is good, and the world building is among the best I've read in this genre. There will likely be a few things that will be problematic, but overall this is a vivid, interesting world that will keep you engaged from beginning to end.(less)
I feel a little guilty about giving this book four out of five stars because I absolutely adore this series. Alexia's adventures have been fun from th...moreI feel a little guilty about giving this book four out of five stars because I absolutely adore this series. Alexia's adventures have been fun from the first page, and I was looking forward to a grand finale that answered some important questions. It was disappointing to see how many important details were simply glossed over or ignored, and it makes me wonder if these details are being held in reserve for the two new series Carriger is writing based on the Parasol Protectorate?
For example, there are allusions in all five books to how Alessandro Tarabotti, Alexia's father, met and married her mother while in Egypt. Much of this story takes place in Egypt, making it a perfect time to explain Alexia's origin story and to perhaps make her parents slightly more sympathetic characters, but this exploration never materializes. This becomes especially odd with regards to the mystery of the origins of the God Breaker Curse, and it wouldn't have taken much to expand on this, since it is the mystery that drove much of the series.
Another problem I had with the story is that the narrative seems to move at a broken pace. It took me, the inhaler of books, three days to read this story! At first I thought this was because I was lamenting the end of the series and pacing myself. Then I realized much of the problem comes from the way plot elements are revealed throughout the story: This book doesn't read like the end of the series, it reads like the set-up for a new series. I appreciate that a new series based on Alexia and Connall's daughter, Prudence, is forthcoming, but it is a YA series and, please, for the love of all things literary, please finish this series by focusing on these characters and storylines. The conclusion of the book feels pat and uncomplicated, and has a distracted feel like the author has already mentally moved on to another series.
Despite these problems, I found the book to be very much in keeping with the series. There is a wry humor throughout the series that keeps the romantic elements from descending into saccharine sweetness. The world Carriger has created has a complex social and political structure that can sometimes be a snarl, especially with vampires, werewolves, Knights Templar, Order of the Brass Octopus, and regular human governments, but I appreciated how this made me read carefully. I'd say more on this, but it will lead to spoilers so I'll leave it at that. Read carefully, and then wait for The Finishing School series, as well as the Parasol Protectorate Abroad series, where (hopefully!) a few more details about this world can be revealed. (less)
Liberator picks up in the months after the first book in the series, Worldshaker, ends. The ‘filthies,’ the (for all intents and purposes) serf class...moreLiberator picks up in the months after the first book in the series, Worldshaker, ends. The ‘filthies,’ the (for all intents and purposes) serf class that operates the mammoth ship has taken over, and the politics of their endeavor are immediately snarled. They’ve renamed their ship the Liberator, but their former rulers are living in ghettos on the ship, even though they helped in the revolt and encouraged the uprising. The action is certainly tenser than in Worldshaker, and the story begins with a murder that threatens everything Col and Riff have worked to establish. This murder allows for a power struggle that leaves Col adrift, and Riff in a precarious position within the new council. Personal relationships also suffer, as Col finds himself increasingly cut off from Riff as they both try to navigate a new reality and peace for the citizens of the ship.
The first time I read Worldshaker I liked it, but was a little underwhelmed by what I thought was too simple a story, and Liberator also suffers from this to a smaller degree. This series is rated for 10-13 year-olds, and the vocabulary and chapter length of these books has been modified to accommodate this young audience. As a result, Col seems a little too naïve, and in places both texts feel ideologically heavy handed to me. By the time I read Harland’s Worldshaker I had already read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (a work of YA literature that has been very well received by adults) and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (an adult work that could easily be read by teens), and I felt that Worldshaker suffered in comparison.
I will argue that Liberator is also somewhat lacking the maturity level of other YA authors in this genre; I think adults will enjoy this book if they understand the concerns I have pointed out and read the text with a little patience. Steampunk literature is well-known for exploring concerns about class, the mass-produced and non-unique nature of modern technology, and the environment, and Richard Harland’s book wastes no time establishing itself within the genre in an approachable manner that should be enjoyable for both children and adults.
In a lot of ways, I enjoyed Liberator far more than Worldshaker because the world Richard Harland has created is much bigger, and the reader gets so see the other imperial vessels for the first time and to understand that the behavior demonstrated in the first book of the series is not unique to these massive ships. The young leaders of the Liberator are presented with a fairly large mystery, and although I knew the identity of the saboteur long before they did, it does demonstrate the precarious nature of a democratic society. I like the romance between Col and Riff, but thought it was complicated enough without throwing the distraction of *spoiler* in. This character is used as a simple plot device and then discarded when convenient to the HEA, and it illustrates the simplicity of the overall narrative.
My final analysis is that it is a worthy addition to Steampunk literature, and it is good to have books that a wide age-range can read and discuss. There are many large important themes central to Steampunk literature, and Harland’s books are a great way to expose new/young readers to the genre. Although I have given it three stars, this is a 3.5 star review. (less)
I find that sometimes the only way I can process an anthology is by reading and evaluating each story individually, and then determining an average sc...moreI find that sometimes the only way I can process an anthology is by reading and evaluating each story individually, and then determining an average score for the work as a whole. In this case, there were seventeen stories, and each could earn a score of up to five points. With 85 points available, my final score for this anthology is 61, or an average of 3.59, which I have rounded up to a four star rating here. This is really a 3.5 star review. Some of my favorite are evaluated below, with the score I gave it accompanied by my rationale, and my complete review can be found on http://atmology.blogspot.com/2011/09/... .
I will admit that my score is biased by my disappointment that this collection doesn’t have a much better developed steampunk sensibility. I understand that steampunk wasn’t the sole focus of the stories that were gathered, but if an editor puts this on the cover then I expect to see these themes and tropes appear. Instead, I feel like the victim of a bait and switch, where I’m told I’m going to get something, and then feel duped. All of these stories could be described as supernatural suspense or horror stories, and it doesn’t make sense to me that the steampunk label was applied for what ends up being less than half of the collection. I feel like this descriptor was added because steampunk is gaining a large following of fans that are hungry for this genre and will eagerly buy this kind of literature, and I feel baffled that a better anthology wasn't assembled by editors who write in this genre and should know better.
In the stories where the steampunk label does apply, it certainly isn’t because of airships, corsets, or cogs! In these narratives the steampunk is focused within themes of technology, and the effect technology has on humanity, as well as how this changes the individual or society. Honestly, I feel the word ‘horror’ belongs on this cover, not ‘steampunk,’ and I wish that is what the editors had done. Despite this, there are some fine stories that can be considered steampunk in this anthology, and it is these stories that saved this anthology for me. Here are my thoughts on my favorites:
Music, When Soft Voices Die (Peter S. Beagle): (This story 26 pages, and takes place in England.) Beagle hasn’t written steampunk before, and this first attempt is actually quite good. The third person omniscient narration revolves around four roommates share a home: Vodran (copyist), Scheuch (bank clerk), Griffith (waiter), and Angelos (second-year medical student). Angelos is denied a true medical education because he is Jewish, but he tinkers and designs gadgets while he attends the university, which keeps him fairly entertained. One day, Angelos is working on a machine he thinks will allow people to communicate wirelessly over large distances, but as time goes by he discovers that all of the voices are that of people in great pain. Their Turkish property manager comes by to collect the rent and immediately knows that Angelos has used technology to achieve something terrible: Will magic be able to cure the problem technology has created?
I thought this was an interesting story because of the multi-cultural and retro-futuristic technology, which incorporates the spiritualism Victorians were engrossed with. Beagle creates a modified history that was interesting, and incorporated the Turkish elements in a clever fashion. The more I think about this story, the more I like it for its fit into the steampunk genre. This story earned 5 stars for overall steampunk and elegance of the narrative, and is one of my favorites in the anthology.
The Curious Curse of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder (Garth Nix): (13 pages, and takes place in England.) There’s a mysterious murder in a park, and the sergeant calls for Sherlock Holmes, but gets Sir Magnus Holmes, Sherlock’s second cousin somewhat removed. It turns out there are supernatural forces involved, and Sherlock thinks his young cousin, who is currently a resident of Bedlam, is the perfect man for the job. Magnus and his “keeper” Miss Susan Shrike are, indeed, the perfect people for the job, but the greater mystery is who (or what) is Magnus?
Although this story lacks overt steampunk elements achieved through machinery, the suspense is well developed and the gaslight drama is very well done. As far as I’m concerned, the means Miss Shrike uses to control Magnus is all the technology this story needs, and it caught my imagination and interest. This story wins my “story I would most like to see as a novel” award for this anthology, and is easily my favorite of the collection. There’s delightful ambiguity and intriguing questions, and I would love to see this story expanded to reveal more about Magnus and Susan’s relationship, and well as how Magnus copes with his supernatural abilities. I gave this story 5 stars for overall interest and the supernatural elements used.
Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism (Richard Harland): (19 pages, takes place in England/English analog.) A 13 year-old is suffering from crippling nightmares and his parents take him to a research center that promises to cure him. When they arrive they discover that the scientist has a machine that he is using to “pull” the bad dreams out of his patients. It turns out that the aspects of the personality that are pulled out of the patients become trapped in the machine, and cause the machine to act out the horrible acts in the minds of the patients it has been used to treat. Can the young man make his parents and the mad scientist listen to his claims that the machine is haunted before it overpowers and kills its creator?
This story is clearly a steampunk story, especially because it examines the question of the role of technology in our lives and the degree to which we are being changed by it. I also appreciated that Harland managed to incorporate supernatural suspense into his narrative. This is one of my top three favorite stories in the collection, and I gave it 5 stars for its steampunk elements and well-written narrative.
I bought Clementine because I had just finished reading Boneshaker, which I thought was a clever and original story that reinvented American history a...moreI bought Clementine because I had just finished reading Boneshaker, which I thought was a clever and original story that reinvented American history and offered a plausible alternative timeline in which the American Civil War never ended and drags on through internecine fighting and skirmishes. While I think much of Clementine captures elements of this originality, it was a touch disappointing, primarily because there wasn’t enough narrative to develop either of the main characters or their place in the textured history Priest has created for her Clockwork Century novels. I find that this novel can more appropriately be described as a novella, and it almost felt like a short story whose expansion was forced, with somewhat unsatisfying results. Although Priest’s narrative in this novel is adequate, the characters never become truly interesting and, as a result, I had trouble developing emotional attachment to them, as well as the desire to see them succeed. This book definitely adds to the Clockwork Century series, and is worth owning, but it simply never transcends the problem with the flat character development.
The reader first meets Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey in Boneshaker: He’s a former slave who ‘liberated’ an airship from Confederate forces eight years before the start of the story and headed West with a crew of former slaves to make their way through piracy and smuggling of the highly addictive Yellow Sap. His airship, which he has rechristened the Free Crow, is stolen during Boneshaker by Felton Brink, who is using it to transport an important component for a superweapon being constructed in the North. Hainey takes this theft very personally—he stole the Free Crow fair and square, after all, and it’s a matter of personal honor. He’s not going to let Brink get away with renaming his ship Clementine and depriving him of his means of making a living.
Then the narrative shifts to Maria Isabella Boyd who, at nearly forty, has had too much success as a Confederate spy. Rather than retire her gracefully, however, the Confederate government sends her the dreaded “your services are no longer needed” letter, and leaves her to make her way as best as she can without a military pension, which is inexplicably withdrawn. Boyd is left with limited options for employment until she is hired by the Chicago-based Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Her boss knows she was a Confederate spy, but since his firm is no longer being given much work by the Union, he feels that the benefit of her particular skillset outweighs the potential for conflict of interest. For her first mission she is tasked with making sure that the airship Clementine makes it to Louisville, Kentucky. She isn’t told what’s on the ship, only that the ship has to make it to its destination by any means necessary, and if she can also capture Hainey, then she can turn him over to the Confederate authorities for extra consideration. Pinkerton isn’t necessarily aligned politically and, so long as she does the job she’s paid to do, he doesn’t really care what her political views are.
The story then alternates between Hainey and Boyd: Hainey, as he comes East from Seattle, and Boyd as she rushes West from Chicago. The two meet in the middle of a firefight in Kansas City and quickly discover they have common goals. Hainey doesn’t know where Brink is taking the Clementine, but he knows that its cargo will be used in the manufactory of a superweapon the Union plans to use to win the war. Boyd knows where the ship is heading, but was unaware of the weapon that will be used to destroy major Confederate cities in an effort to force the surrender of the South. The two decide to join forces to retrieve Hainey’s ship and prevent the Union from being successful.
As other reviewers have already pointed out, the story feels hurried and poorly developed, with a plot that feels thin and barely plausible. Cities are alluded to, but there is barely any mention of how the protracted civil war has restricted the westward expansion of the United States or how population growth has been changed. I assume that the American population would continue to grow, even given the ongoing civil war, and I can’t figure out where the populations are or why they would go in those directions. This created a disconnect with the characters: As a reader, I don’t understand why Boyd continues to be loyal to the South and its political goals, or who is buying the merchandise that Hainey is stealing and/or transporting. The story is action-filled and fast-paced, but it seems to be serving goals I can’t understand or support as a reader. In short, the story gives me few reasons to sympathize with or like these characters, and I just don’t care if they are successful.
Despite my complaints about the narrative, I enjoy Priest’s writing style, and I was entertained by the story. It’s all action-adventure, with nontraditional leading characters in an older heroine and black leading man. I appreciate that Priest resisted the urge to further muddle her novel with a romance, and the relationship between Hainey and Boyd remains properly focused on getting to Louisville so that they can go their separate ways. This is not to say that they don’t earn each other’s respect, because they do, but this story isn’t long enough for anything more sophisticated, like friendship, to develop. Because this story adds so little to the alternate history Priest has created, I would recommend that readers who are new to the Clockwork Century should focus on reading Boneshaker and Dreadnought first, and save this book for supplemental reading. (less)
Not very long ago I wrote a rave review for the first book in Clay and Susan Griffith’s Vampire Empire, a story that I find reimagines vampire mytholo...moreNot very long ago I wrote a rave review for the first book in Clay and Susan Griffith’s Vampire Empire, a story that I find reimagines vampire mythology and adds elements of Steampunk and horror to create a novel that feels new and interesting, and that I found exciting to read. The early reviews for The Rift Walker indicated that this novel was a solid addition to the series, but I was worried that it would suffer the fate of so many other ‘middle’ novels, in which the characters in a trilogy spend a great deal of time running to and fro figuring out the bits of information they need for the closing book. I was incredibly pleased to discover this was far from the case with The Rift Walker: Like its predecessor, this narrative is wildly entertaining and the wandering the characters do is necessary to the plot and character development that is driving this trilogy. As with the previous book in this series, while it is clearly written for the adult market, YA audiences will enjoy this story as well.
The story opens with the Greyfriar, vampire Prince Gareth, back home in Scotland and Equatorian Princess Adele reluctantly preparing to marry the American senator chosen to be her consort. Adele is anything but willing, however: she’s using her ‘fragility’ over the events of the first book as an excuse to keep delaying the wedding for months while she spends her nights attending popular plays staged about her tragic romance with the Greyfriar. Both main characters struggle with their fathers and how these men control their lives. Gareth suffers at seeing his fragile father, King Dimitri, fade away, and his brother Cesare’s increasing control and assumption he will rule in Gareth’s place. Adele, by contrast, feels isolated from her father, and alienated from whatever glimmers of love she ever had from him. Gareth and Adele’s destinies seem beyond their control, and both suffer from the implications of what the future will bring for them, as well as for their subjects.
But then Gareth learns of a terrible vampire plot to launch a sneak attack on Equatoria, an attack that is designed to kill the ruling family and leave the humans at the mercy of the vampires. Similarly, the Equatorians have decided on a strategy to cripple the vampires: They will kill all the humans in northern Europe to deprive the vampires of a food source and cripple the vampires. This plan leaves Adele deeply horrified—these humans are technically her subjects, and they are about to he cruelly butchered as a ‘necessary sacrifice’—but she doesn’t know how to stop the wheels of fate. Adele’s father decides she no longer has any excuse to delay in marrying Senator Clark, and the wedding must take place so that Senator Clark can put this plan in motion. All are unaware that Gareth has planned a daring rescue of the princess, and he arrives just as Adele and the senator are pronounced man and wife. He romantically whisks her away, but it immediately becomes evident he didn’t have much of a plan beyond the snatch and grab. It is left to Adele to figure out who their allies might be, and to develop a plan to get Equatoria some help from the coming vampire attack.
In The Greyfriar Gareth had the advantage of territory, but now the situation has completely reversed. He and Adele are heading into the heart of the African continent, where Gareth is practically incapacitated by the heat, and completely at Adele’s mercy. Adele has to keep Gareth’s secret while proving herself worthy of the future leadership of a country whose political system is unraveling. Meanwhile, the threatened vampire attack takes place, and Senator Clark uses it to attempt to have himself declared emperor by virtue of marriage to Adele. He sets off in pursuit of his “wife” so that he can take the throne he’s decided should be his because he’s male, and better suited to leading Equatoria.
But the race to a distant ally is more than a strategic retreat for Gareth and Adele: She is learning what she is and the range of her talents, as well as how to access this power. She is also learning more about who Gareth is as a vampire, and exploring the question of the ability of humans and vampires to coexist. He, on the other hand, is learning that humans are even more complex and unpredictable than he imagined, and he becomes increasingly driven to make sure that humanity survives the coming war, even though it might mean the destruction of his species.
It’s really hard for me to keep from talking about how much I like this story—both on its own and as the second book in a series. It’s longer than the first installment, and has a moral ambiguity and literary complexity that has me still thinking about how the plots are going to unravel and anxious for the next book. Despite all of the action, there are some fairly large questions embedded in the text that have me wondering how the authors are going to resolve these conflicts with only one book left! The biggest question I think the text is exploring is whether it is possible for these two equally strong species to overcome their natural distrust and mutual animosity to arrive at a peaceful coexistence. Is the destruction of one group necessary for there to be resolution? Adele certainly appears capable of destroying the vampires, a power that was hinted at in The Greyfriar, and explored at greater length in The Rift Walker. But the vampires are incredibly fast and powerful against a woman who can only be one place at a time.
Similarly, both Gareth and Adele are the heirs apparent of their respective empires. A cataclysmic war is on the horizon, and it seems that no matter how much they love each other, Gareth and Adele are going to have to make some hard choices about their future. If they are able to arrive at a peaceful solution, what will this mean for their relationship? If there is no peaceful resolution, will Adele have to order or carry out the killing of all vampires, including Gareth?
I also liked the way Steampunk was incorporated into this story, although little is added that wasn’t already present in the first book. The soldiers on the airships and in ground battles wear goggles because they are equipped with special lenses that allow them to tell the difference between humans and vampires, who look so much alike that in the heat of battle this capability is necessary. The Equatorians use steam-powered technology for their airships because their displacement from Europe has made survival essential and slowed the development of other kinds of technology. The vampires wear Victorian clothing because they are restricted to using what was left behind by human populations after The Great Killing; they are unable to master using tools to make more. The Steampunk elements are incorporated thoughtfully and with purpose, and nothing is present that doesn’t serve a necessary use. This is Steampunk that makes sense and puts the story first. I am looking forward to learning more about the technology the Equatorians and Americans have developed in future installments of this trilogy.
My final analysis is that this story is just plain fun. It was difficult to put down because there’s always a new twist that creates interest and incentive to keep reading. I LIKE Adele and Gareth, and their story is heartbreakingly compelling, especially given their status as future rulers of their nations. I appreciated that this isn’t a story of a ‘good’ species versus an ‘evil’ species, but a fight for survival in which both groups can behave equally badly. Although things still look bad for both groups, there is a small glimmer of hope that change is possible. I can’t wait for the next book in this trilogy!! (less)